#3: Beethoven – Sonata No. 23, Op. 57 “Appassionata”
This is stormy, angry, heroic Beethoven. Compared to the Pathétique, the stormy mood is more cohesive here. I love how the first couple minutes of the first movement almost feel like an improvisation, with basic musical materials scattered around and interrupting each other. Somewhere along the way he turns the super-basic arpeggio motive from the beginning into a classic warm, reassuring theme in A-flat Major. I’m sure Beethoven relished the teasing moment of that quiet, lonely little scale that wanders down and gets stuck in the bass range before launching into the famous A-flat minor section. The relentless sixteenth-note figurations and sweeping arpeggios in this movement are clear preoccupations from Beethoven’s Heroic Period.
The slow variation movement, though in lush D-flat Major, has an underlying sadness that becomes more curious through each variation. As the bell-like tones ring out, it seems more and more like Beethoven is trying to reassure himself, temporarily safe in an oasis from the storm. And we’re not sure if he convinced himself; the movement doesn’t fully end, instead closing on two diminished chords that lead right into a bitter, exhausting finale.
The third movement must have seemed really intense to its first audiences. In the hands of a capable player, it can still be truly exciting. The dotted ta-TAA motives evoke somber horns calling out in the thunderstorm. The running sixteenths, sometimes for both hands at once, give the player little room to hide behind an inadequate technique. The coda, marked Presto, takes the already-powerful music to a fever pitch; this is Beethoven asserting his personality and pushing the pianist and the audience to their limit.
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